Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tricked by the Envelope: A Lesson in Ethical Marketing

By Jennifer Spitzer

As marketers, we’re bound by many laws and regulations that help protect consumers. You can’t call someone registered on the Do Not Call list unless they’re an existing customer. If you send an email to promote your service and you don’t have permission to send that email, you’re in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. And what you advertise about your product needs to be true. Remember those comic book ads for X-ray vision eye glasses? Imagine how many people would own a pair if they really delivered on the promise.

Even with the laws we have in place, marketers have plenty of gray area to play in, which is why the Direct Marketing Association (DMA, www.dmaresponsibility.org) advocates self regulation among marketers. In its Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, the DMA clearly outlines principles to help marketers make responsible decisions about how they communicate to clients and prospects.

In the mail today, I received an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, RUSH TO ADDRESSEE via Priority Express Mail envelope. The sender was not identified anywhere on the envelope and there was no hint of the content. This is serious. This is official and by the looks of the “posting number” and the various check boxes on the address panel indicating rush processing, Priority 1 and “dated material enclosed”, there’s something really important in this envelope. I tear into it with urgency.

Inside this oversized, official-looking Priority Express envelope is a single sheet of paper, “We will Match or Beat Your Current Mortgage Offer!”

I feel like I have been tricked into opening this… how embarrassing. Okay, Quicken Loans, you got me.

Using this tactic to get a consumer’s attention is perfectly legal but in my opinion, falls within the gray area of self-regulation. Ethical guidelines state that envelope copy on any direct mail effort must be honest and “Offers that are likely to be mistaken for bills, invoices, or notices from public utilities or governmental agencies should not be used.”

I forgive you Quicken Loans for tricking me into opening your envelope. For your next campaign, consider identifying yourself. Work on your mail list so that you’re targeting consumers with the highest propensity to become a customer. Develop your creative, message and offer so that it’s relevant and compelling. Be a responsible marketer and you’ll see results.